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Election watchdog facing closure amid Russian NGO crackdown

Election watchdog facing closure amid Russian NGO crackdown
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Russia’s main independent election watchdog ‘Golos’ said it faces fines or even closure in what activists are calling a campaign to silence the critics of President Vladimir Putin.

Russia’s Justice Ministry published a report on its website saying it asked courts to close, or suspend the work of, almost 9,000 NGOs while a further 5,610 face fines.

The ministry is trying Golos separately as the vote-monitoring organisation failed to register as a foreign agent.

Grigory Melkonyants the Deputy Head of Golos, said:

“If any foreign citizen sends one ruble to the bank account of an NGO, even if the organisation itself has no idea about that, immediately the Ministry of Justice says ‘OK, you received money from a foreign citizen - you should register as a foreign agent,‘ and the NGO is not even required to give a response.

“In this way one can paint any NGO as a foreign agent, and we want to show this absurdity to the public in court and in the Constitutional Court too, in case such a case arises.”

Golos, and other NGOs and rights groups, have faced a series of searches recently by various officials from tax inspectors to fire-safety officers.

The groups say they are being intimidated into registering as “foreign agents” – a term they say echoes Cold War-era espionage and would harm their credibility.